Collaboration is the Pits – And it can drive success.

“Hot Pit Pass” – Those words on the ticket hanging around my neck on a fancy lanyard were magic to me. The coveted prize of any motor-racing fan, to be granted access to epicenter of the action in any major motor-race. A few years ago my wife and I had been lucky enough to be invited to attend the Texas NASCAR race as a guest of Richard Childress Racing, and part of the package was a guided tour of their pit operations and the coveted pass that allowed us to stay in the pit and garage area the whole race. NASCAR is un-matched in the access it gives fans and visitors, and with that magic piece of paper we got to wander anywhere; including sitting on the pit wall watching the cars come in and being serviced.

It was a magic moment witnessing the well-rehearsed choreography of a top-flight pit crew. Six men flowed over the wall to service the car, filling it with fuel and changing four wheels and tires in less than 15 seconds. (In Formula One where the pit crew can number as high as fourteen people each with a dedicated task they can accomplish a four wheel and tire change in less than three seconds!)

A good pit-stop can mean the difference between success and failure in a race; and a good pit crew can be just as effective as the driver when it comes to positioning a car to win. Despite there only being one person on track, motor racing is definitely a team sport. This was bought home to me again recently during a business trip while watching the 2015 NASCAR race from Atlanta on the hotel room TV. Not surprisingly I’ve stayed a fan of the RCR teams and always follow them closely, and the Caterpillar sponsored #31 team in particular. During the Atlanta race the #31 pit crew were exceptional, as it soon became apparent that with every single pit stop the car emerged from the pits several positions ahead of where it had entered. In some cases the fast efficient work of the team gaining four or five places.

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It also struck me that the pit-crew model is a perfect analogy for the content creation and delivery process.

Customers are looking to your content to provide answers to questions, and as the content creator you may feel like the lone driver out on track fighting for space and hoping to get out front and be noticed first.

But the truth is that most customer answers need input and information from across your organization. Customers don’t think in terms of your operational silos, so they don’t look for information in neatly packaged chunks. To meet your customer’s needs you need to collaborate with subject matter experts, do research, and them pull it all together in a language that your customer will understand.

You need to pull together your own “pit crew” around a particular subject, value their individual inputs and pull them together to develop a process, to deliver the result that will help you, and your customer move forward at an accelerated pace.

Collaboration of this type also results in a premium consistent brand experience; ensuring that your customer gets the same answer, the same information, no matter through which channel they ask their question.

Working together results in success for both you and your customers.

Be Arnold – Not Mary-Kate

“Why be Mary-Kate and Ashley when we can be the Arnold to the rest of the industry’s Danny DeVito?”

It may sound like a strange conversation, but it’s one I’ve had several times at different points in my career; usually when I’ve been at a small to medium sized, or spin-off start-up, software company. The underlying conundrum behind the question was “How do we differentiate ourselves?”

Nearly every business, to a greater or lesser extent, is akin to a commodity driven business these days. There are very few disruptive companies whose success is solely due to the fact that they are the only one doing something. Everybody has a competitor, or two, or lots; all doing essentially the same thing you are, especially when you are playing in a global marketplace.

If someone tells you what line of business they are in, and you answer “Me too,” then you are now a commodity. If you don’t differentiate yourself trough the unique value you bring to you customers you become an Mary-Kate or Ashley Olsen. A product that can be swapped out with one that does basically the same thing and no-one really notices the difference.

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So how do you differentiate your value?

With CONTENT

Content can make you stand out like Arnold Schwarzenegger towering over Danny DeVito in the movie Twins.

Look at what makes your company and products special, how do you solve your customers problems in the way that provides them the most value? Find the perspective that only you can provide; look to your company’s own experts, and your customers too. If you can find a niche where you can provide the most informative, engaging, and useful information, then plan to become the industry’s leading expert in that space.

With the right content and the right approach you can position yourself to tower over others who may think they are just like you. Remember – Be Arnold, not Mary-Kate.

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No Pain, No Gain.

I hate the gym. I’m happy to admit that. I’ve never consider myself to be any sort of athlete; and I find working out just for the sake of exercise boring in the extreme.

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As for pain, I’m a total wuss – I don’t like any sort of pain, so the tried and trusted mantra of

“No Pain, No Gain,”

has always been something of an anathema to me. – With one exception; Content Marketing.

We need to feel pain in business. Not physical pain, but the pains of delivering what we are in business to do. While overcoming our own business pains can indeed help us grow, that’s not the most important pain to consider.

The pain we should be considering, especially when it comes to Content Marketing, is our customer’s pain.

Every company, no matter what its size, exists to solve problems, be it with a product or a service. We are in business to fulfill a need, and that need is our customer’s need. We drive our revenue by making sure that we meet that need by solving the problems and pain points that stop our customers from being successful in their business and meeting their own customers needs.

Often as companies grow they lose sight of the customer and become more internally focused, especially in areas that don’t have direct contact with customers. As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, when that happens traditional marketing starts to be more about messaging how great we are and not what we can do to help.

Content Marketing changes that.

Content Marketing is about providing value to our customers to help them succeed; and to do that we need to know their pain points and focus on delivering the information, knowledge, and inspiration to remove that pain.

If you want to make business gains, then you need to start feeling some pain – just make sure that the pain you know most about is your customer’s pain – Then become the trusted source to ease that pain.

Capturing User Content – Inspired by a CAT moment at Harley

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During the last week of 2012 I took my Harley-Davidson motorcycle into the local dealership for a regularly scheduled service. While checking the bike in I started chatting with the Service Manager, and in the course of the conversation he asks where I work.

For the first time I get to say “Caterpillar.

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And I get a reaction I tend to associate more with my other life as a comic book and pop-culture writer than with a business exchange, I can only describe it as he went “all fanboy” and started waxing lyrically about Caterpillar products and his experiences using them. Turns out he used to be in the construction business and is happy to list every piece of CAT equipment he has ever operated. He even has a wish-list of the ones he still wants to try.

As I’m heading out of the service bay he says: “I’ve used all sorts of equipment (and lists a bunch of other makes), but nothing does what a CAT does.

My marketing brain kicks in and thinks, “what an awesome soundbite.” Then I start thinking we need a way of capturing that, and others like it. And that will certainly be a conversation I will have as I ramp up my new role at CAT – maybe they already have a way of doing it that I’m not currently aware of – in which case, great. But I’ll certainly be looking at how we can leverage this sort of interaction from a Content Marketing perspective.

As I’ve been looking at various content marketing examples of customer interactions, from a variety of companies in all sorts of industries, over the intervening period, that exchange keeps coming back to me. It struck me that the vast majority of the customer endorsements and sound bytes in a business-to-business environment come from the customer’s executives and buyers, but very few come from the people who actually use the product everyday to do their job.

It’s only natural for as a marketing and sales organization you probably already have contacts with your buyer and probably his boss and executive sponsor too. You can just use that relationship to ask for an endorsement, soundbite, case study, or video interview.

But does that tap in to the people who really love your product and brand, the ones who get to experience it everyday?

Is it time to dig a little further into your customer’s organizations and capture the user stories from the real operators? The user stories that will appeal to, and provide all important peer recommendations, to other potential users.

Time to put the marketing excavators in to action.

 

Don’t educate…learn!

Earlier today I came across the following post on a Tech Doc related discussion list.

We still use X and while we (the tech writers) think they are useful, I think our users mostly rely on Y. We’ve attempted to educate our users on the value of X, but based on the questions I get I don’t think a lot of our users think of using X on a regular basis.

(AJP – Quote edited to remove names of specific processes)

Wow – so if I get this straight, the users of the information like to use it one way (Y), but the content creators think they should be using it another way (X) so they make every effort to “educate the users” as to how it should be done.

If the majority of the people who uses your content are following the same behavior pattern, isn’t it better to look at why they are doing that, and the value that THEY find, rather than the value that YOU think is there.

Learn from your customers. Find out why they prefer Y to X, and then do what you can to make Y even better. If that means dropping process X, then do so.

Those of you who have heard me talk will have heard this before, but the documentation industry is not about us as content creators, it’s about our customers and how they access, assimilate, and use that content.